ID’s 2020 PhDs make their mark

With diverse interests in conservation, healthcare, and feminism, graduates share a commitment to equity and responsibility

By Andrew Connor

ID was the first school in the US to offer a PhD in design. In 2020, ID will honor three graduates with doctoral degrees: André Nogueira, Santosh Basapur, and Maryam Heidaripour. Their research and dissertations bring a host of diverse insights into the world.

“ID helped me see the world with new lenses. In today’s world, a PhD contribution—especially in design—is certainly not an individual achievement; rather it results from the hard work and achievements of those who preceded the student and the support and dedication of a network of people and institutions,” says André. “ID provides a platform for this to happen.”

André came to ID with a background in architecture, urban design, and geography, expecting to get another master’s in design, when associate professor Carlos Teixeira pointed out the possibilities of ID’s PhD program.

“After sitting with his invitation, I realized this was a unique opportunity to work exactly at the intersection of design, sustainability, and innovation, helping create new approaches for more sustainable and equitable futures, regardless if they were enabled by me or others,” says Nogueira.

Now André’s time at ID has culminated in a body of research that addresses the power dynamics leading to environmental injustice. As an Associate Researcher and Instructor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Andre continues to explore alternate decision-making and design processes that promote sustainability and the well-being of people, organizations, and the natural environment.

“My work sits at the intersection of design, systems thinking, industrial ecology, and adaptive leadership, bringing pragmatism to ideological discourses,” says André. “My dissertation integrates knowledge from these adjacent disciplines into new frameworks, methods, and models that were designed and tested to enable more sustainable and equitable futures.”

Like André, Santosh Basapur has spent his time as a PhD student at ID devising new frameworks for addressing complex systems problems. Santosh, who will defend his dissertation this fall, started as an ID student following five years at Motorola Research Labs, where he met ID professor (now emeritus) Keiichi Sato working on projects addressing the future of mobile and home media experiences.

Santosh was impressed with ID’s research at the intersection of design, the social sciences, business and innovation. Keiichi’s Design Information Framework was an example of new thinking in design information management that enables designers to effectively organize, generate, evaluate and communicate their knowledge and insights.

“I was amazed at his viewpoint and how well he was articulating the Design Information Framework that he had developed with his PhD students,” says Santosh. “I started meeting with him and discussing a lot of research and philosophy around design of complex systems. This got me onto the path of PhD at IIT Institute of Design.”

Santosh’s research as a PhD student has focused on human-centered design of complex systems like transportation and healthcare.

“A lot of work has been done in development of products, technologies, and services that are user- or person-centered,” says Santosh. “But there is a need for further work and understanding of how these systems function and can be designed for people who use the services of these systems and the people who provide the services as part of these large complex systems.”

Moreover, his dissertation integrates the field of semiotics into systems design, and proposes a method for designers can incorporate peoples’ meanings and values into the design process. As Director of Design: Business Processes at Rush University Medical Center, Santosh is already putting his research at ID into application.

Finally, for Maryam Heidaripour, pursuing a PhD at ID meant finding a way to imagine and craft futures in which we can all thrive.

“Before starting my doctoral journey, I worked at the intersection of design and business development, primarily helping with the socioeconomic empowerment of women at the bottom of the income pyramid,” she says. “But I realized my design contribution was in a way feeding the vicious cycle of economic inequality. I decided to embark on the PhD path not just to deepen my thinking on the issues that I was facing at the time, but to become a designer who pushes the boundaries of design knowledge.”

Informed by both philosophy and the feminist theory of temporality—which emphasizes an awareness of the past, present, and future to confront inequalities— Maryam studies how new worlds are designed and for whom they’re designed for. Her research suggests that by adopting a greater awareness of time—one that goes beyond a simplistic linear notion—designers can shape alternative futures.

“Although shaping futures is an integral part of design, conventional design methods are mainly informed by present issues and concerns,” says Maryam. “I suggest incorporating a temporal lens along with more often practiced material and spatial lenses to diversify and deepen our engagement with what is yet to come. The result is a new way of practicing design that is deeply attuned to justice.”

Though their research has focused them in different directions and industries, ID’s 2020 PhD graduates prioritize equity and inclusivity, sharing a commitment to building intelligent, responsible, and cooperative futures.